Henry Purcell

1659 - 1695

Henry Purcell (/ˈpɜːrsəl/ or /pɜːrˈsɛl/; c. 10 September 1659 – 21 November 1695) was an English composer. Although incorporating Italian and French stylistic elements into his compositions, Purcell's legacy was a uniquely English form of Baroque music. He is generally considered to be one of the greatest English composers; no other native-born English composer approached his fame until Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton and Benjamin Britten in the 20th century.

Henry Purcell.
Portrait by John Closterman,
probably 1695

Key Works

(b. prob. London, ca. September 10, 1659; d. Westminster, November 21, 1695)
 

English composer. He was the outstanding English musician of the second half of the 17th century, and is regarded by many as the greatest composer England has ever produced. Born a year before the restoration of Charles II to the English throne, he served that music-loving monarch early in his career. When, following Charles’s death in 1685, the musical scene at court went into decline, Purcell successfully redirected his energies toward the theater.
 

The son of a court musician, Purcell lived all his life in London. His father died in 1664; a few years later, probably in 1668 or 1669, young Henry became a choirboy in the Chapel Royal. After his voice broke, in 1673, he was taught by Christopher Gibbons (1615-76), the son of England’s outstanding Renaissance composer Orlando Gibbons, and most likely by John Blow (1649-1708), whose music, along with that of Matthew Locke (ca. 1621-77), had a particularly strong influence on him. In 1679 he succeeded Blow as organist of Westminster Abbey, a post he retained for the rest of his life, and in 1682 he was appointed a member of the Chapel Royal. Between 1679 and 1685 he composed a large amount of ceremonial music for court. With the accession of James II in 1685 his production ebbed, and the arrival of William and Mary in 1688 brought this phase of his career to an end. By 1690 Purcell had made the transition from genteel court composer to celebrated man of the theater; he was so productive and successful that in 1695, the year of his death, his music was heard in 11 different London productions—not even Andrew Lloyd Webber has matched that.

Engraved portrait of Purcell by R. White

17th-century etching of Purcell

King Arthur

KING ARTHUR or the British Worthy 
LE ROI ARTHUR or le valeureux Breton 
KING ARTHUR oder Britanniens Würde

The best Purcell's songs ever Music for a while

The best Purcell's songs ever O Solitude

Sonatas

Sonata No.1 in G minor (Z 790)
Pavan in G minor for Three Violins and Bass (Z 752)
Sonata No.2 in B flat major (Z 791)
Pavan in B flat major for Two Violins and Bass (Z 750)
Sonata No.3 in D minor (Z 792)
Sonata No.4 in F major (Z 793)
Pavan in A minor for Two Violins and Bass (Z 749)
Sonata No.5 in A minor (Z 794)
Sonata No.6 in C major (Z 795)
Sonata No.7 in E minor (Z 796)

Fantasias for viols

1 | Fantasia I à 3 en ré mineur | d minor Z. 732  0:00
2 | Fantasia II à 3 en fa majeur | F major Z. 733  2:49
3 | Fantasia III à 3 en sol mineur | g minor Z. 734  5:29
4 | Fantasia IV à 4 en sol mineur | g minor Z. 735  7:57
5 | Fantasia V à 4 en si bémol majeur | B♭ major Z. 736  11:13
6 | Fantasia VI à 4 en fa majeur | F major Z. 737  14:03
7 | Fantasia VII à 4 en do mineur | c minor Z. 738  17:13
8 | Fantasia VIII à 4 en ré mineur | d minor Z. 739  21:17
9 | Fantasia IX à 4 en la mineur | a minor Z. 740  24:42
10 | Fantasia X à 4 en mi mineur | e minor Z. 741  27:54
11 | Fantasia XI à 4 en sol majeur | G major Z. 742  31:04
12 | Fantasia XII à 4 en ré mineur | d minor Z. 743  34:00
13 | Fantasia XIII à 4 en la mineur | a minor Z. 744  36:50
   TERMINÉ PER | COMPLETED BY MATTHIAS MAUTE (MONTRÉAL)

14 | Fantasia upon one note à 5 en fa majeur | F major Z. 745  40:05
15 | In nomine à 6 en sol mineur | g minor Z. 746  42:35
16 | In nomine à 7 en sol mineur dorien | g minor Dorian Z. 747  44:09
17 | Dance for the Green Men :: Monkey's Dance (The Fairy Queen)  46:28
18 | Dido's Lament (Dido & Aeneas)  50:31

In spite of the turmoil at court and the professional and financial uncertainties it created, Purcell remained a prolific composer throughout his career. He composed hundreds of songs and more than 50 pieces of instrumental and keyboard music, 24 odes and welcome songs for ceremonial occasions at court (including three brilliant tributes written for St. Cecilia’s Day, Welcome to all the pleasures, Laudate Ceciliam, and Hail, bright Cecilia), and more than 100 anthems for the Chapel Royal and Westminster Abbey. He also composed or contributed to more than 50 works for the stage, of which the most important were the opera Dido and Aeneas (1689) and the semioperas Dioclesian (1690), King Arthur (1691), The Fairy Queen (1692), and The Indian Queen (1695).
 

Purcell had an unparalleled ability to set English in a felicitous manner. His sense of melody sprang in part from the English language itself and, as a singer, he knew how to make use of the skills of adult and boy vocalists. His youthful idiom was angular, highly chromatic, peppered with piquant dissonances. Much of his early vocal and instrumental music had its roots in the style of the mid-17th-century Italians— Giacomo Carissimi (1605-74), Michelangelo Rossi (ca. 1601-56), Antonio Cesti (1623-69), and Giovanni Legrenzi (1626— 90)—rather than in the work of such contemporaries as Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti. In the 1680s Purcell absorbed the influence of French courtly dance styles and began to incorporate some of the newer Italian formal procedures into his music, which stands apart from that of other English composers of the day due to its imagery, its more advanced long-range harmonic thinking, and its unique character. One can almost always recognize Purcell’s music by its daring expressiveness—not grand and exuberant in the manner of Handel, but tinged with melancholy and a mixture of elegance, oddness, and wistfulness.

One of four sons, Henry Purcell revealed his musical skills at a very early age and joined the Chapel Royal in London as a boy chorister. Choristers were encouraged to develop their talents, and the eight-year-old Purcell duly obliged by composing a three-part song. "Sweet tyranness", which became a part of leading publisher Playford's "Can That Catch Can."
 

After his voice broke, Purcell left the choir and was engaged as assistant to the Keeper of the King's Instruments. He progressed to supervision and tuning of the organ at Westminster Abbey (1674-8) and m 1677 replaced Matthew Locke as Composer-in-Ordinary (for violins). Two years later he succeeded John Blow as the Abbey's organist and shortly after married Frances Peters, with whom he settled in a house provided with the employment.
 

From this stable domestic setting his compositions flowed. He wrote Latin anthems for the royal chapels, a book of trio sonatas, and other occasional pieces for the court; in all he catered with great versatility to the distinct musical differences between the royal court, public ceremonies at Westminster Abbey, and the theatre — the latter an increasing interest with Purcell. In 1685 he composed the anthem Rejoice in the Lord alway, known as the Bell anthem because of the "pealing" effect of its instrumental introduction.
 

He had become the official organist to the Chapel Royal in 1682 and a year later was made Organ Maker and Keeper of the King's Instruments. Purcell was evidently well able to fulfil an administrative role while remaining a creative musician, for his court positions were reconfirmed by James II, and again in 1689 when William III and Mary took the throne. For the coronations of each, Purcell composed anthems and played on the Abbey organ.
 

Purcell's affinity for the theatre led him to explore the medium of opera. In his thirties his efforts bore fruit with the 1689 premiere of his famous Dido and Aeneas, the first English opera of lasting significance. Although less than an hour long, it contains dances and choruses in many styles and spans a wide variety of human emotions from elation to despair. Its most famous aria is Dido's Lament, "When I am laid in earth", sung over a repeated bass line of filling semitones (the smallest interval between two notes used at that time), representing Dido's descent into the grave after her desertion by Aeneas.
 

After Dido, Purcell wrote largely for the theatre. Between 1690 and 1695 he composed music for no fewer than 37 productions, including King Arthur in 1691 and The fairy queen in 1692. He continued to write pieces for royal occasions, and in 1 694 composed an ode, Come ye sons of art, away, for the birthday of Queen Mary, wife of William III. The piece includes the aria "Sound the trumpet", usually sung by a pair of duelling countertenors.
 

When Queen Mary died of smallpox late in 1694, Purcell wrote a series of pieces for her funeral, held in Westminster Abbey in March 1695. The Funeral music for Queen Mary comprises an anthem, four profoundly bleak pieces for trumpets and trombones, and two elegies. That same year some of the music was used at Purcell's own funeral. His death at the early age of 36 was an immense loss to England and the musical world. His funeral, like Queen Mary's, was held at Westminster Abbey, with both the Chapel Royal choir and the Abbey choir in attendance, and he was laid to rest close by the organ at Westminster Abbey that he had spent years maintaining.

Hail! Bright Cecilia - Ode to St. Cecilia Z 328

I. Symphony [00:00]
II. Hail! Bright Cecilia [9:50]
III. Hark! hark! each tree [13:52]
IV. 'Tis Nature's voice [17:39]
V. Soul of the world [22:07]
VI. Thou tun’st this world [24:15]
VII. With that sublime celestial lay [29:26]
VII. Wondrous machine! [32:16]
IX. The airy violin [34:26]
X. In vain the am’rous flute [35:44]
XI. The fife and all the harmony of war [42:21]
XII. Let these among themselves contest [45:14]
XIII. Hail! Bright Cecilia, hail to thee [47:37]

  Funeral of Queen Mary

 Suite Dioclesian - Z.627

The Duke of Gloucester's Trumpet Suite

"Come Come Ye Sons Of Art" - Ode for bithday Queen Mary

Ode "Welcome to all pleasures"

The Echoing Air

Part I
1. Staircase: Overture
2. If Music Be The Food Of Love
3. Cebell
4. To Arms, To Arms, Heroic Prince
5. To Arms
6. Tell Me, Some Pitying Angel
7. Slow Air
8. We Come To Sing
9. Oh! Lead Me To Some Peaceful Gloom

Part II
10. O Solitude
11. Hark! Hark! The Echoing Air
12. Trumpet Tune

Part III
13. Sweeter Than Roses
14. Fairest Isle
15. She That Would Gain A Faithful Lover
16. Cupid, The Slyest Rogue Alive
17. I Attempt From Love's Sickness To Fly
18. Jig

Part IV
19. Music For A While
20. The Fatal Hour Comes On Apace
21. Hear, Mighty Love
22. Plainte: O, Let Me Weep
23. Chacony In G Minor

Dido & Aeneas

0:00 Dido and Aeneas - Overture 
2:09 Dido and Aeneas / Act 1 - "Shake the cloud from off your brow" Marie McLaughlin

 

3:24 Dido and Aeneas / Act 1 - "Ah! Belinda, I am prest with torment" Jessye Norman 
9:05 Dido and Aeneas / Act 1 - "Whence could so much virtue spring?" - "Fear no danger" Jessye Norman 
12:36 Dido and Aeneas / Act 1 - "See, your Royal Guest" - "If not for mine" - "To the hills and the vales" - The Triumphing Dance Marie McLaughlin
17:59 Dido and Aeneas / Act 2 - Prelude for the witches English Chamber Orchestra 
19:00 Dido and Aeneas / Act 2 - "Wayward sisters" - "But ere we this perform" Patricia Kern 
23:58 Dido and Aeneas / Act 2 - "In our deep vaulted cell" - Echo Dance of the Furies English Chamber Orchestra Chorus
27:05 Dido and Aeneas / Act 2 - Ritornelle - "Thanks to these lonesome vales" Marie McLaughlin 
29:50 Dido and Aeneas / Act 2 - "Oft she visits" - "Behold, upon my bending spear" Elizabeth Gale 
33:15 Dido and Aeneas / Act 2 - "Stay, Prince" - "Jove's commands shall be obey'd" Derek Lee Ragin
36:37 Dido and Aeneas / Act 3 - Prelude - "Come away, fellow sailors" Patrick Power 
39:11 Dido and Aeneas / Act 3 - The sailor's Dance - "See the flags" - "Destruction'sour delight" - The Witches' Dance Patricia Kern 
42:42 Dido and Aeneas / Act 3 - "Your counsel all is urged in vain" - "But death, alas" Jessye Norman 
48:14 Dido and Aeneas / Act 3 - "Thy hand, Belinda...When I am laid in earth" Jessye Norman
53:38 Dido and Aeneas / Act 3 - "With drooping wings" English Chamber Orchestra Chorus

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